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Problem of Terrorism in the Post-Soviet Era
Yevgeniy Kozhokin

Terrorism in the post-Soviet era in the Commonwealth of Independent States, as well as in the newly independent republics of Central Asia, is a complex phenomenon, difficult to describe because perceptions and understanding have lagged significantly behind in a situation that is changing with unprecedented rapidity. The patterns of terrorism that are employed in the various conflicts that have emerged in the region are well known, and include explosion in residential buildings, hostage taking, murder of civilians, policemen, servicemen, administrative officials and ecclesiastics loyal to the government, attempts on the lives of politicians, including the attempt on Islam Karimov, President of Uzbekistan. Terrorist organisations have established bases in the territories of Chechnya, Georgia (in the Pankiss Defile) and Tajikistan. In Russia, the formations of Ameer Khattab and Shamil Basaev are active in the North Caucasus. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan also operates in Central Asia and Afghanistan.

Within these territories, terrorism has emerged as a means to secure political ends. These include the establishment of new state formations such as the Imamat of Chechnya and Daghestan, the Imamat in the territory of the Ferghana Valley in Central Asia. They also include efforts to induce changes of political regime, such as the creation of an Islamic Republic of Uzbekistan. Organisations and leaders who organised terrorist activities in these regions found shelter and safe havens in the territory of Afghanistan under Taliban control, as well as in Turkey and several Arab countries.

The terrorist organisations that have established themselves in these regions are multifunctional – they act as military, political, religious and criminal bodies at the same time.

In 1998, a Council of Military Commanders was created in Northern Caucasus, which proclaimed the illegality of the presidential system and institutions on the basis of the Islamic shariat (law), and rejected, on these grounds, the rights and authority of President Aslan Maskhadov. Ameer Khattab and Shamil Basaev headed this Council. Subsequently, when Russian troops were committed to the territory of Chechnya, Maskhadov’s former political adversaries preferred to overlook former animosities, and created an alliance to project and further their goals and perspectives in USA and Western Europe. After 1998, shariat courts were established and played a very important role. The Parliament of the Chechen Republic had already been declared an illegal body even before the Presidency was. Nevertheless, some former members of that Parliament continued travelling around the world to mobilise support for precisely those groups that had liquidated Parliament.

The most active and well-known terrorist group in Central Asia is the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). It is known that this organisation commands the absolute loyalty of its members and imposes a regime of strict discipline through inexorable repression towards those who disobey. One of the most dramatic incidents relating to such ‘disciplining’ of cadres occurred when twenty five young Uzbeks decided to leave Juma Namangani’s squad, after accusing IMU leaders of a failure to observe Islamic practices and precepts. All the dissenters were executed.1

In addition to the IMU, there is also the Hizb al-Tahrir (Islamic Liberation Party). Hizb al-Tahrir activists claim that their organisation’s struggle is nonviolent, but this is questionable. The security services of Uzbekistan, Kirghizia and Tajikistan have been exercising enormous efforts to contain the Hizb’s illegal activities and have imprisoned many of its adherents, confiscated propaganda material, etc. In the year 2000, for example, 80 Hizb al-Tahrir party members were convicted of illegal activities in Kirghizia’s Dzhalal-Abad region. In Tajikistan, Hizb al-Tahrir is most active in the Sogdian (former Leninabad) region. During a trial in the summer of 2000, more than 90 Hizb members were charged with involvement in organising criminal activities, inciting ethnic and religious enmity and calling for a forcible change of the constitutional system.2 The intelligence services of the Republic admit that they have not yet managed to stop the flow of ‘pilgrims’ from Central Asian countries into terrorist training camps.

Hizb al-Tahrir activities are pressing ever more insistently for the elimination

of the secular regimes in Central Asia. Ahead of presidential elections in the autumn of 2000, leaflets were distributed in Bishkek and southern Kirghizia, calling for an overthrow of authorities. In year 2001, in addition to leaflets in Kirghiz and Uzbek, Russian-language leaflets appeared. Now there are also captions featuring “Kirghizstan”. The leaflets target known personalities: some akims (local executives in Kirghizia), newspaper editors and even law enforcement officials. Leaflets addressed to akims sound almost peremptory.

Kazakh researcher Sabit Zhusupov notes3 that the Religious Department of Muslims of Kazakhstan (an official structure) is diluting its influence in the country’s south regions. It is opposed by imams of mosques, that have close connections with the foreign centers, and it is also noted that there is an increase in the activities of charitable Islamic organisations such as “Istlakh”, “Tajba”, and “The Committee of Asian Muslims”.

Very often, terrorists act under the shelter of religious organisations. Penetrating a new region, extremists usually start with just peaceful missionary activity. At the first stage, missionaries are sent to conduct an “enlightening” work. Sometimes, they arrive illegally. They enter a country as tourists or students, and while staying for a long time, spread Islamic propaganda that in essence does not differ much from a political one. Certainly, there are preachers who arrive legally and go in for nothing but religious activity but there are evidently those who come violating the laws of the countries of stay with the sole aim of indoctrination. The problem of reducing such activity is specified by the fact that since the late nineteen eighties, the process of reislamisation of the post-Soviet area have started. To activate this process, first of all, Saudi Arabia as well as some other Islamic countries has invested significant funds. So, in 1992, more than 17 thousand Muslims made a pilgrimage from Russia to Mecca and Medina. Students from CIS were provided with 220 grants to finance their educational study in Islamic institutes of Saudi Arabia. Students were sent through official Russian religious structures to continue education in religious institutions of Egypt, Morocco, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Libya. By 1999, about 110 registered Muslim institutions where religious disciplines and Arabic are studied exist in Russia. Teachers from Egypt, Syria, Jordan and other Arab countries work there.

So, one may state that in Central Asia (and recently in the North Caucasus) there is a wide net of different kind of organisations that are engaged in the propaganda of a radical and militant Islam, that is far from the one typical for the region. A favourable environment is created to recruit young people for sending them to terrorist centers and terrorist training camps where they are subjected at the same time to the ideological indoctrination.

The mercenaries from Central Asia were trained in the following training camps in Pakistan: in the Islamist center “Dawat-Tablik” in the city of Rewand, in the camps Juma - ul – Sanifia (near Islamabad) and Tabon (city of Mardan in Peshawar). The training camps are situated in Arbat Road (Peshawar), in kishlaks (villages) Jal-hoz, Shamshati (near Karachi) and Okuli Khatta (Peshawar). The activities of the Uzbek Islamic center based in Attok and Tadzhik Islamic Committee based in Peshawar causes certain concern to Tajikistan and Uzbekistan officials. The terrorist training camps for years have been under the control of Jamat-i-Islami, one of the largest Islamist groups in Pakistan.

It should be emphasized that, both in organisations that support terrorist activities and among trained terrorists, different nationalities could be found but nearly all of them preached Islam.4 A band-group which was liquidated in June 2001 in Sharo-Argunsk defile could give some idea of the ethnic cast of terrorist groups acting in Chechnya. Citizens of Turkey, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, certain Arabian countries and France were killed in a battle. Judging by the papers discovered, there were Magomed Tsagaraev, Erick Zhan-Deni Mergiri, Ugur Dzhelel Tsakmak, Emri Mikias, Mekhmet Aslan, Malik Murkuz-ogly Khagverdiev, Agil Faid-ogly Namazov, Tofik Shamsibala Abdulgalimov among them.

Erick Zhan-Deni Mergiri according to his passport (Number - 97 RA 08908) issued in 1997 was born on June 6, 1965,. He arrived in Chechnya through Azerbaijan and Georgia. As indicated in his flight ticket, he departed from London airport on December 26, 2000 by British Airways and arrived in Baku where he got a visa the same day. Leaving Azerbaijan, he arrived at Tbilisi first, then Pankiss defile. The mercenary turned out to be an Izlington college student. He had an International student card (Number - SO44205026038) which was valid up to year 2001. It seems that Mergeri hoped to gain money and return to appear for his examinations. Among the other papers, there was a photo of him in the uniform of French International Legion. Among the mercenaries, four citizens of Turkey were also identified.

Ugur Dzhelel Tsakmak was born on January 15 1971 in Sinope. He got his passport (TR-LN Number – 349525) on January 31, 2000 in Istanbul.

Emri Mikias was born in Erzerum. He was ten years younger than Tsakmak. Before leaving for the North Caucasus, he had lived in the city of Yalova. Judging by his passport details, he arrived in Georgia in May 27, 2001 and was accompanied by Mustafa Altynbas, who had secured a passport and driver’s license (Number - P 294923) issued on February 23, 1998.

Another Turkish citizen Mekhmet Aslan should be mentioned individually. Judging by his passport details, he visited Georgia twice in the year 2000 – on

the first occasion, he stayed in the country for 90 days and on the next for a period of 30 days. Available evidence indicates that while staying in Georgia, he was forming a group of fighters to be sent to Chechnya and those whom he recruited were Turkish citizens. In February 2001, he visited Pakistan (and possibly Afghanistan also) and underwent training in one of the international terrorist organisation’s camps as a trainer-spy. In May 23, 2001 Aslan returned to Georgia with Tsagaev and took part in forming another group of foreign mercenaries and its equipment and moved into the territory of Russia. That campaign turned out to be his last one.

Three citizens of Azerbajan finished their ways in Sharo-Argunsk defile as well. Malik Murkuz-ogly Khagverdiev was born on December 10, 1979 in Baku. On July 28, 2000 he got his passport (Number - 0705564). Agil Faid-ogly Namazov was born on May 31,1980. Like Erick Zhan-Deni Mergeri, he did not complete his studies at the Azerbaijan universities. In the pocket of his jacket, a member-card of the Azeri Federation of Karate “Kekusin” was found. It was determined that he was a trainer in a club “Islam”. Another inhabitant of Baku, Tofik Shamsibala Abdulgalimov was born on November 21, 1978. Lezgin by nationality, his diary indicates that he intended to become an amir (field fighter). The total number of persons killed in the Sharo-Argunsk defile was 21 fighters, including citizens of some Arabian countries and Pakistan.

According to reliable sources, the group of mercenaries was formed by Magomed Tsagaraev, who was later shot by a 16 year-old Chechen in Grozniy during one of the terrorist acts.

Financing of terrorist organisations is based on drug trafficking, arms smuggling and hostage trade.

In Chechnya, under the rule of Aslan Maskhadov, there were special places for keeping hostages and slaves. Recently, some information has emerged regarding the facts of seizing hostages in Georgia. Even propagandist site acknowledges that in the year 2001, seizing hostages caused tensions in relations between Georgians and Chechens in the Pankiss defile.

Terrorist activity is generously sponsored as well. Khaled Sufuri, Al-Kazdini and Al-Amudi, the prominent representatives of Muslim community in the USA, are very active in attracting funds for the Chechen separatists. They made a considerable financial contribution to the electoral campaign of George W. Bush as they have traditionally supported the republicans.5

In the view of Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev, the upsurge in international terrorism in the region is related directly to the increased drug trafficking through Central Asia into Russia and Europe, with the bulk of smuggled drugs coming from Afghanistan.

During the reign of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, that country emerged as the world leader in the annual production of raw opium. In year 2000, according to UN Drug Control Office, Afghanistan produced 3.3 tons of opium. Drugs from Afghanistan are delivered to markets via several theoretical routes. But, the main route lay through Central Asia, which has a favourable environment for the drug mafia, with a porous border, inadequate equipment and methods used by customs and border guards, and corrupt officials. Currently, according to experts, Central Asia handles 65 per cent of all drugs emerging out Afghanistan. The most “active” corridors today are Tajikistan’s Gorno-Bakhashan autonomous region in the Pamirs and also Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan (from Turkmenistan across the Caspian to Azerbaijan). For example, in Tajikistan in 1997 alone, Russia’s Federal Frontier Service (FPS) confiscated 4.5 tons of narcotics. In 1998-1999, the flow of drugs via Kazakhstan alone increased by 150 per cent. Naturally, part of the drugs remains in the Central Asian republics and results in an increase in drug abuse among the population and also in drug-related crimes.

Both in Northern Caucasus and Central Asia, the internal situation to a considerable extent, favours the spread of Islamist extremism. Thus, the raids of trained terrorists in Central Asian republics in 1999-2000 showed that Islamists were supported by the population not only in Ferghana valley but even in the Southern part of Kazakhstan. There are some fears that the Islamic factor would play a more active role in the southern regions of Kirghizia and Kazakhstan. There are several reasons that explain the positive or neutral position of the population towards Islamic trained terrorists. The situation in Central Asian Republics is characterised by a potential for social conflict and the complaints of population originating from a mass hidden and factual unemployment and huge gaps in the living standard of different groups of population. Islamic preachers and agitators manipulate and take advantage of such complaints. They speculate on the egalitarist sentiments of people, most part of which were educated in the framework of Soviet political culture and Marxist-Leninist ideology. Equality in poverty seems natural. Poverty of one and richness of another contradict both the “old” communist and “new” Islamic world outlook. The Wahhabi conception of “zuhd’a”, one of the main Islamic ethic notions, restrictions in food and even in sleeping, elicit response of the poor dehkan who turned out to be “saints” (zahids) due to the fact of birth and are looking for universalization of such honest poverty.

Similar reasons “nourish” terrorism in Northern Caucasus but the situation is aggravated by difficult consequences of military actions on the territory of Chechen Republic, ruinous governing of General Dudaev and criminal anarchy during the Maskhadov presidency.

At present, the Federal center is undertaking serious efforts to improve the socio-economic situation in Chechnya. Critics of the Russian government’s policy on Chechnya, admit that 160 thousand pensioners were regularly paid during year 2001. Thousands of pupils were able to spend their summer holidays in houses of rest and sanatoriums of Northern Caucasus and the Central part of Russia. It means that the Federal government is attempting to win over the loyalty of Chechen population and at the same time trying to deprive the terrorists of their social base.

The governments of Russian Federation and of Central-Asian states are taking all-out efforts to limit the activity of religious extremists. Recently, the Deputy Prime Minister of Russia, Valentina Matvienko, said that the Foreign, Interior and Justice ministers would be ordered to make recommendations for amendments strengthening control over the foreign religious activities in Russia. She said that the legislation should not affect the representatives of legitimate religious organisations, but that it should prevent people from using religion as a disguise for extremist activities. Police and visa authorities would be asked to increase control over the foreign religious activities. All these economic, social and administrative measures are expected to diminish as much as possible the threat of terror in Russia and other CIS states.


  1. Leonid Levitin, Uzbekistan at a Historical Turn, Moscow: Vagrius, 2001, p. 264.
  2. Leninabad Pravda, July 26, 2000.

  3. Sabit Zhusupov, Islam in Kazakhstan: Past, Present, Future, Moscow, 2001, p.121.

  4. Izvestia, Moscow, April 19, 2001.

  5. Izvestia, October 15, 2001.





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